By Imogen Cox, Digital Marketing Executive

Imogen has recently returned from a long weekend in Marrakech with her mother, finding peaceful pockets in the frenetic medina and ridding their sins in the desert. Here’s how they got on.

Stop 1: Dar Zemora

After a smooth journey to Marrakech, we skirted around the walls of the Medina to reach the Palmeraie and our first stop, Dar Zemora. We entered the grounds through theatrical gates and were met by Youssef, the manager. After a quick tour of the impressive house, bold with hand-painted ceilings, local art and striking colours, he led us to our suite (Perla). It was generously sized, with a seating area, dressing room, four-poster bed and a stunning bathroom. However, the showstopper was the private terrace – twice the size of my flat in Bristol! It was so peaceful, dotted with colourful plant pots, sunloungers, a day bed under a shaded pergola, outdoor sofas and a dining table. 

We had arranged to have lunch on arrival, and Youssef insisted we take this on our terrace, so we did, and it was wonderful. The food was delicious: lamb chops with a white cabbage and sultana slaw, beetroot with mint and puy lentils, all washed down with a bottle of Moroccan Rose, followed by a fruit salad, mint tea and some small baked goods. We then had an hour or so to explore the 3 acres of garden and take a dip before our scheduled treatments. The weather was unseasonably hot for November, at 33 degrees, so we were eager to take advantage of the pool, surrounded by palms. 

Following this, we headed for a Hammam and massage on-site. This was… memorable. The moment my mother and I stepped in we were stripped completely of our swimming cossies and pummelled by two ladies, while facing each other the whole time. It’s safe to say she felt more comfortable without her glasses on than I did with 20/20 vision! However, once the initial embarrassment wore off, the experience was quite enjoyable and the massage was lovely – though more aggressive than we are used to! 

Dinner was taken outside; it was a courgette soup amuse-bouche, followed by a delicious aubergine salad with warm fresh bread, a fish tagine (which was a little overcooked) and then a sticky date & lemon tart. It was simple, un-fussy homecooking, but we slightly preferred what we ate for lunch. We had a couple of drinks in the gorgeous relaxation room, with vibrant pink and blue sofas and wafting curtains, then headed to bed. We were met with a tidied room and a hot water bottle under the duvet – just what we needed at the end of our first day. 

In the morning we feasted on a breakfast of fresh OJ, coffee, an array of fresh fruit, sweetened yoghurt, bread, paratha, pancake, apricot and berry jams, honey, and eggs. We were set for a delightfully lazy day.

I felt completely relaxed here. The photos can’t capture the serene nature of the place; we loved hearing birdsong all day and crickets all evening. The thoughtful service, the tranquil vibe, the tasty food: all reasons why this place proves a hit with every guest. Whilst we were there, some were already planning their return trips next year, and my Mum wasted no time in lobbying my Dad to go back with her.

Rooms from GBP 205

Stop 2: Riad Sakkan

We then headed into the Medina and to Riad Sakkan, a stylish riad situated in the trendy Mouassine district, close to both the centre and the edge of the Medina but blissfully quiet inside. Owned by a cool Belgian couple, it certainly attracts a fashionable crowd, beautiful people taking photos in the aesthetic courtyard pool and rooftop restaurant. The pool is flanked by double daybeds and long vines hang elegantly from the upper floors. It’s very photogenic, but being tickled by foliage while trying to relax felt a little counterintuitive. 

The roof terrace, however, was fabulous. The restaurant and bar are in the middle, and then two raised patios with sun loungers sit at either end so they catch the sun at different times of the day. The staff up here were all wonderful – we even got an invite to dinner at a lovely man’s house in a Berber village! But we had to politely decline, as we were booked in for a lavish three-course dinner at the hotel. We had oysters and tuna tartare with citrus fruit, followed by salmon with ratatouille as a main. For dessert, I had Crepe Suzette and Mum had a panna cotta. By this point, we were stuffed full of great food and even better margaritas, so we decided to call it a night.

Our room was gorgeous. We were in room 4, a rich yellow-toned haven with leather floors, a steel bathtub, an intricate wooden ceiling and a very comfortable bed. The bathroom was also a treat, with a double shower and glistening mustard tiles. The whole place is very glamorous – the design falls somewhere between Moroccan and European – sleek, neutral and Instagrammable with nice muted greens, yellows and golds which nod to Moroccan décor.

Breakfast was another generous spread. Coffee, juice, fruit, granola, yoghurt, jams and honey, pain au chocolat, croissants, ciabatta, and then a choice of hot dishes. Mum had an omelette, while I opted for fresh tomatoes and a dish of merguez sausages with tomatoes and peppers (which tasted amazing). As we ate I mulled over our time at this super-chic riad. Of all our stays, this felt the most European in flair. Although I did miss the authentic Moroccan flavour, I thought the glamorous vibe, central location, photoshoot-worthy pool and expertly mixed cocktails on the sun-soaked terrace tick all the boxes for an easy girls’ mini-break. 

After checking out, we walked over to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum and the Jardins Marjorelle – desperate to try and walk off some of the ridiculous amount of food we had consumed thus far. We loved the vibrant gardens and the museum was very interesting, though much smaller than I had imagined.

Rooms from GBP 172

Le Jardin Majorelle, YSL Museum & Medina Vendors

Stop 3: Riad Dar Zaman

As we wanted to take the scenic route to our next stop, we walked through the medina making a few stops along the way, before reaching Riad Dar Zaman. However, most guests arrive in a taxi and are met by a member of staff,  handily it’s just a few minutes walk from the taxi drop-off point. As we were travelling on foot, Peter, the owner, had recommended downloading before arriving, which turned out to be a lifesaver (it’s a map app that you can use offline and shows the Medina in much more detail than Google maps). When we arrived we had some tea and chatted with Hassan, the manager; one of the friendliest people I’ve met, his warm welcome set the tone for the rest of our stay here. He kindly emailed me his personal map of the area with pins of things to do, places to eat, recommended hammams and more. 

This is one of our best-value options in Marrakech, with just four rooms, all stylish and comfortable. Our room, La Douiria, was the largest of the four, yet perfectly cosy – with a fireplace which would be perfect for a wintry stay. I also liked the look of the terrace room, maybe next time! Whilst we were there the other rooms were occupied by two young couples and a pair of friends. The whole place is no frills but relaxing, homely and well-executed.

There’s a lovely plunge pool located in the centre courtyard. I can imagine in the height of summer when temperatures reach the mid-forties, that a dip in here would be the perfect way to cool off! The roof terrace is also a little oasis, though quite compact; if all 8 guests were up there you might feel a little on top of each other, but we were up there with a few others and it was fine – everyone was reading peacefully and enjoying the sunshine and birdsong. 

We were the only ones having dinner in that evening, as the other guests had all done a cooking class at lunchtime (a highlight of many guests’ stays). Chef Karima prepared us a wonderful, authentic home-cooked meal. We started with some bread (they had thoughtfully sourced gluten-free for Mum) and a trio of salads (aubergine, courgette and sweet tomato). These were all delicious, particularly the tomato dish which was almost like a sweet chutney. We then had Karima’s signature dish, a chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives, served with green beans and cous cous. Dessert was sliced oranges with cinnamon. 

By this point, we had become quite fond of Moroccan breakfasts, and this one was one of our favourites. The usual suspects of coffee, juice, bread, yoghurt, almond butter and jams were accompanied by homemade houmous, olive tapenade, and avocado. Karima came out to chat with us about her recipes again, which we loved. The food throughout our stay here was so good that Mum was keen to recreate it at home, so Hassan emailed her the recipes they use for their cooking classes.

There was a lovely family-feel amongst the team here, which extends to the guests. Hassan and Karima have both worked here for many years and openly expressed to us their love for the hotel, and Peter is hands-on with the day-to-day operations, even running the tours of the Medina as part of the cooking class. You can tell they all look after each other and it feels truly special to be a part of it. I can see why they are one of our top-rated hotels of 2023. 

Rooms from GBP 97

Lunch at El Fenn, Le Jardin Secret & Dar Cherifa

Stop 4: Caravan by Habitas Agafay

After a whirlwind few days in the city it was time to head off to the ‘desert’, a 40-minute journey to Caravan by Habitas Agafay. We were met with hibiscus juice on arrival and then given a welcome ceremony where we rid our bad energy on hot coals and planted vegetable seeds to set our intentions. We were then taken on a tour of the huge site (we ended up averaging 10,000+ steps per day without leaving the hotel), including the gardens where they grow a lot of their produce: potatoes, aubergines, carrots, artichoke, turnips and lots of herbs. They’re immensely proud of being able to grow this in what is essentially barren land, and rightly so, it was impressive. 

We were taken to our room, a Desert Lodge. One of four categories, Desert Lodges are the second most premium option, Atlas being the top pick. These ‘tent’ types have partial stone walls, fully plumbed bathrooms and all the other typical features you’d find in a hotel suite, so feel more like ‘rooms’. The other two tent types, Dune and Explorer, are a little more basic. They have ‘eco-bathrooms’ which contain a plastic toilet (porta-potty-esque) – not quite in keeping with the luxurious vibe. They’re all decorated nicely with an earthy palette, boho details, and large cosy beds, but I would suggest paying a bit more for a Desert or Atlas room, purely for comfort. 

At the reception, they had a board listing the free activities, which vary slightly each day. When I was there they included yoga, cookery classes, cocktail-making classes, horse training, desert hikes and more. The non-included extras were pricey, such as biking, camel and horse rides, private yoga classes, and stargazing, but we never felt like we’d missed out thanks to the good choice of included activities.

We headed over to the restaurant and shared a nice salad for lunch, containing goats cheese, roasted peach, broccoli and cabbage.  There were several lounge areas and bars dotted around, and two unheated pools (which felt very cold in November but I imagine it’s refreshing in summer). As we relaxed by the pool with a delicious pina colada, I admired how they had designed the area; the variety of seating – cabanas, loungers, daybeds, tables and chairs – created plenty of private, relaxed spaces which I preferred to the typical regimented line of sunloungers. 

Watching the sunset over the hills was truly stunning. The scenery surprised me; it felt less barren and scrubby than I had anticipated, and the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains behind the ‘desert’ hills was beautiful. Habitas have also designed the space very cleverly, with lots of plants, shrubbery, colourful cushions and rugs to soften the stony views. We went back to our tent leaving pinky orangey skies behind us, and emerged to pitch black (bring a torch!). Once onto the main path, everything was beautifully candle-lit. The path led us to a fire pit where people were having drinks and relaxing. We had a cocktail here before heading for a delicious dinner of Moroccan classics. 

In the morning we got up for sunrise and yoga. We kicked off with a coffee as we watched the sun peep over the Atlas Mountains, and then headed to the yoga dome for a gentle flow. The staff here were all really friendly, and there was a lovely sense of community among the guests. Breakfast was yet another feast. They had three options available, each with about six elements: Wellness, Agafay or Olivar. I opted for wellness (very un-me) and Mum had Agafay. Along with a spread of green juice, parathas, brioches, honey, cream cheese, fig conserve and jams, we had chia seed puddings, topped yoghurts, avocado toast with vegan ceviche and even shakshuka. 

Feeling refreshed by the self-care ethos and other-worldly setting, when it was time to leave I felt our trip to Agafay, albeit brief, had been the perfect way to wind down after a whistle-stop weekend in Marrakech. 

Rooms from GBP 183

Feel free to get in touch with us if you’d like advice or help with planning your own trip around Morocco, or enquire via our Tailormade Tour